ArtsAutosBooksBusinessEducationEntertainmentFamilyFashionFoodGamesGenderHealthHolidaysHomeHubPagesPersonal FinancePetsPoliticsReligionSportsTechnologyTravel

Under the Glacier, A Superb Icelandic Novel

Updated on January 31, 2019
juneaukid profile image

Richard F. Fleck is author of two dozen books, his latest being Desert Rims to Mountains High and Thoreau & Muir Among the Native Americans.

Book Cover of Under the Glacier
Book Cover of Under the Glacier | Source
Icelandic glaciers
Icelandic glaciers | Source
Halldor Laxness
Halldor Laxness | Source

Under the Glacier

Icelandic author Halldor Laxness, winner of the Nobel Prize for his novel Independent People (1946), has written over sixty novels during his lifetime (1902-1998), but, as many critics note, Under the Glacier (1968) is quite different from any other novel he has written.

In her introduction to the novel, Susan Sontag writes that Under the Glacier is a multi-genre novel being a unique blend of science fiction, mythic allegory, fantasy, fable, spoof and philosophy. She regards it as a masterpiece of modern fiction. It is based on an ancient figure from Icelandic saga coming to life in the twentieth century. Porgunna, the legendary woman who came to Iceland from Ireland in ancient times, is responsible for uncanny happenings in the small settlement of Glacier, Iceland. She had the ability to resurrect herself from the dead and bake Irish bread for the guests at her own wake! In a sense, Ursula (known as Ua), the Lutheran pastor's wife, is a sort of Porgunna, coming from Ireland (or possibly Spain). She is reported to be dead and buried in a coffin placed on the glacier to await resurrection.

The Plot

The Lutheran Bishop of Iceland sends a young emissary from Reykjavik to Glacier to find out what is going on in this small community under Snaefells Glacier. It is rumored that the church has been closed down and boarded up. The young emissary discovers that the rumor is actually based on fact. Not only that, but Pastor Jon has taken up blacksmithing and shoeing of horses.

When the emissary finally gets to interview this local pastor, he is told that he has closed the church simply because the glacier is always open. THe church, claims the pastor, is subject to three key elements: weather, gravity and time. Much like John Muir of Sierra Club fame, Pastor Jon believes that God is still busy creating the world--just look at the force of this giant, grinding glacier. The pastor, like Muir, has a fond affection for birds. Snow buntings always follow him around. He and his villagers believe that the glacier is more than beautiful and that "beautiful" is too cheap a word to describe it. More importantly, they believe that the glacier has the power to resurrect bodies.

Snaefells Glacier is the setting for Jules Verne's novel Journey to the Center of the Earth. It has an extinct volcanic cone in its midst. This cone is not only the entrance to the Earth but also to galaxies. For this reason, the pastor no longer buries bodies in the cemetary, but he has them brought in coffins to the glacier for ultimate resurrection.

Slowly, slowly the nameless young emissary begins to catch on to what is happening in this part of Iceland. And when Dr. Godman Syngmann comes for a scientific visit to Snaefells from California, along with anti-war hippies, the emissary discovers that the fame of this glacier is world-wide. But when Syngmann dies suddenly at Glacier, the emissary demands that the pastor open up his church for an appropriate funeral.

The emissary goes up as close as he can in order to hear the pastor's words during the funeral. He wasn't quite sure if Pastor Jon said the Lord's Prayer or recited "It's a Long Way to Tipperary." For the pastor, far more important than church ceremony is the power of the glacier. It is the Cathedral, the power center, the plow of souls, the source of hope and life-giving waters.

The Implications

The novel ends, as Sontag suggests, as a pure spoof. When Ursula finally returns after a 35 year absence, her coffin is opened only to reveal a large frozen fish that she serves to the emissary for dinner. The young emissary becomes sexually attracted to the pastor's wife who is not welcomed back by her husband. He must repair machinery at a freezing plant instead!

Ursula drives off with the emissary and the reader fully expects an affair to ensue, but no, she drives her expensive car into a marsh, abandoning the emissary by going to her childhood home and locking the doors. When he hears her loud laughter from inside the house, the emissary can do nothing else but haul his duffel bag out of the sinking car and find his way back to the main road to hitchhike to Reykjavik! So ends this bizarre, witty, thought-provoking novel.

Halldor Laxness

Did you know that Halldor Laxness won the Nobel Prize for Literature?

See results

Iceland's glaciers

© 2012 Richard Francis Fleck


This website uses cookies

As a user in the EEA, your approval is needed on a few things. To provide a better website experience, uses cookies (and other similar technologies) and may collect, process, and share personal data. Please choose which areas of our service you consent to our doing so.

For more information on managing or withdrawing consents and how we handle data, visit our Privacy Policy at:

Show Details
HubPages Device IDThis is used to identify particular browsers or devices when the access the service, and is used for security reasons.
LoginThis is necessary to sign in to the HubPages Service.
Google RecaptchaThis is used to prevent bots and spam. (Privacy Policy)
AkismetThis is used to detect comment spam. (Privacy Policy)
HubPages Google AnalyticsThis is used to provide data on traffic to our website, all personally identifyable data is anonymized. (Privacy Policy)
HubPages Traffic PixelThis is used to collect data on traffic to articles and other pages on our site. Unless you are signed in to a HubPages account, all personally identifiable information is anonymized.
Amazon Web ServicesThis is a cloud services platform that we used to host our service. (Privacy Policy)
CloudflareThis is a cloud CDN service that we use to efficiently deliver files required for our service to operate such as javascript, cascading style sheets, images, and videos. (Privacy Policy)
Google Hosted LibrariesJavascript software libraries such as jQuery are loaded at endpoints on the or domains, for performance and efficiency reasons. (Privacy Policy)
Google Custom SearchThis is feature allows you to search the site. (Privacy Policy)
Google MapsSome articles have Google Maps embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
Google ChartsThis is used to display charts and graphs on articles and the author center. (Privacy Policy)
Google AdSense Host APIThis service allows you to sign up for or associate a Google AdSense account with HubPages, so that you can earn money from ads on your articles. No data is shared unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
Google YouTubeSome articles have YouTube videos embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
VimeoSome articles have Vimeo videos embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
PaypalThis is used for a registered author who enrolls in the HubPages Earnings program and requests to be paid via PayPal. No data is shared with Paypal unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
Facebook LoginYou can use this to streamline signing up for, or signing in to your Hubpages account. No data is shared with Facebook unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
MavenThis supports the Maven widget and search functionality. (Privacy Policy)
Google AdSenseThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
Google DoubleClickGoogle provides ad serving technology and runs an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
Index ExchangeThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
SovrnThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
Facebook AdsThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
Amazon Unified Ad MarketplaceThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
AppNexusThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
OpenxThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
Rubicon ProjectThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
TripleLiftThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
Say MediaWe partner with Say Media to deliver ad campaigns on our sites. (Privacy Policy)
Remarketing PixelsWe may use remarketing pixels from advertising networks such as Google AdWords, Bing Ads, and Facebook in order to advertise the HubPages Service to people that have visited our sites.
Conversion Tracking PixelsWe may use conversion tracking pixels from advertising networks such as Google AdWords, Bing Ads, and Facebook in order to identify when an advertisement has successfully resulted in the desired action, such as signing up for the HubPages Service or publishing an article on the HubPages Service.
Author Google AnalyticsThis is used to provide traffic data and reports to the authors of articles on the HubPages Service. (Privacy Policy)
ComscoreComScore is a media measurement and analytics company providing marketing data and analytics to enterprises, media and advertising agencies, and publishers. Non-consent will result in ComScore only processing obfuscated personal data. (Privacy Policy)
Amazon Tracking PixelSome articles display amazon products as part of the Amazon Affiliate program, this pixel provides traffic statistics for those products (Privacy Policy)
ClickscoThis is a data management platform studying reader behavior (Privacy Policy)